Small step for Elon, giant steps for Space tourism: First all-civilian mission

Date:27 September 2021 Tags:, ,

Some people are calling SpaceX’s latest mission ‘space innovation with humility.’ Others offer the thinking that it’s space tourism’s first step. Some even expressed that it’s a grandeur step to colonisation on Mars. But what was at the core of SpaceX’s latest civilian mission in terms of purpose, who was abroad and why is the world putting SpaceX on a pedestal above Bezos and Branson’s space companies?

The mission: Inspiration4

The latest mission for Elon Musk’s company, SpaceX saw four civilians taking off in the fashion of amateur astronauts. There were no space crew on board for the three-day orbit around planet Earth, and the civilians were for the most part, everyday people. I use the term ‘for the most part’ in jest at the fact that one of the visitors was a billionaire.

That essence of the ordinary doing the extraordinary is what allowed the mission to be touted as civilian innovation. It is, after all, the first all-civilian mission to orbit. Beyond this, the mission had a charitable footing that reached for the stars, which is why it’s been called a humanitarian effort. The mission was at its core, an awareness and fundraising endeavour for a St Jude Children’s Research Hospital. This was one factor that dubbed the take-off a humanitarian effort, as Moneyweb writes.

Another striking difference that put the mission on the map was that it was one billionaire who used a rocket built by another as writer Wesley Diphoko wrote, to do some good for humanity, with the casual view of space as the backdrop of course.

Elon Musk donated $50 million to the hospital, as per Space.com.

While Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson’s companies Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic have also taken civilians into space, Inspiration4 was the first all civilian mission that:

  • Saw the SpaceX falcon 9 rocket and crew Dragon vehicle automated, which meant that there weren’t any astronauts on board alongside the civilians for the trip
  • Had a three-day mission instead of a few minutes
  • Saw a destination that was an Earth-orbiting experience, instead of a sub-orbit.

With Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic, the launches have been suborbital. This means that vehicles go high enough to reach the beginning of space before returning to the ground a few minutes later.

The chosen 4

Tech billionaire, Jared Isaacman, organised and funded the trip. The four-person crew saw the other three selected diversely. Sian Proctor won a contest set for people who use Isaacman’s online payment company. Hayley Arceneaux is a physician’s assistant at St Jude’s and so was selected as part of the crew. The final member, Christopher Sembroski won his seat by means of a friend who actually won the seat first in a charity raffle, and proceeded to offer his seat to Sembroski, as per IOL. 

The four members also underwent more training than the people on suborbital flights.

“In less than six months, the crew underwent hours of simulator training, lessons etc and spent time in a centrifuge to prep them for the g-forces of launch,” Diphoko writes. 

A milestone in Space tourism 

According to The Conversation, a space policy expert expressed that “the mission’s emphasis on public involvement and the fact that Inspiration4 sent regular people into orbit for three days makes it a milestone in space tourism.”

“I can see a future within the next decade when families are trying to decide whether to go to Disney World or to space for their summer vacations,” said Meagan Crawford, managing partner of venture capital firm Space Fund Inc., which has invested in Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp.

The crew would also conduct medical research to investigate the bodily and health impacts of space flight in order to make assessments for future space tourists.

Investors are betting whatever the total amount raised for Inspiration4 will be – it’s a drop in the bucket compared to what’s coming.

Investors are also looking at Space Tourism in terms of whether it’s an addressable market. Space Tourism will mushroom into a $4 billion annual market by 2030, according to UBS Group AG analysts. What they’re looking at in anticipation, as per MoneyWeb, is how much the costs of space travel are going to drop by over time.

Picture: SpaceX

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